Minister blunder allows Welsh ambulance probe

The Welsh assembly government is to hold a public inquiry into the country’s ambulance service after the health minister accidentally voted against his own policy.

After arguing strongly against Plaid Cymru’s calls for a public investigation into the service’s problems, Labour AM Brian Gibbons pressed the wrong button and ended up voting for the motion.

He informed the presiding officer of his mistake but was told there was nothing he could do. The absence of his predecessor as health minister, Jane Hutt, from the vote meant the government lost the debate by 28 votes to 26.

“I just pressed the wrong button. We have to draw up the terms of reference and try to deliver the Assembly’s decision,” Dr Gibbons told reporters outside the chamber.

“I don’t think it [an inquiry] is the best use of time and money but clearly what has happened has happened and we have just got to get on with it.”

Calls for a public inquiry followed the publication of a report by the former head of the Welsh ambulance service warning that 500 lives a year were being lost because of inadequate equipment and drugs.

Roger Thayne resigned as interim chief executive of the service last month over the problems facing the service, and went on to publish a report warning that £35 million was needed to bring it up to an acceptable standard of operation.

“The Welsh ambulance service does not and cannot in the near future provide a safe, responsive, reliable and clinically sound service to the public of Wales,” the report said.

It added: “Trauma care is poor and staff carry inadequate equipment and drugs necessary to safeguard life. The result is that, as a conservative estimate, some 500 lives are needlessly lost in Wales every year.”

Welcoming the vote result last night, shadow health minister Helen Mary Jones said it was “good news” for patients and the ambulance service workers, as they would find out what was wrong with the service and what was needed to remedy the situation.

“It is imperative that the inquiry starts as soon as possible so the process of restoring public confidence in the service can begin,” the Plaid Cymru AM added.